28/02/2011

anti-résumé, 2010

(Not a portrait of me by Frederic Leighton.)

Name: Not Clive James


Age: Missed most of the Twentieth Century


Address: Almost nowhere, really.


Nationality: Not a great deal. I don't participate in Scottish culture, any more than I have to by merit of enculturation.


Languages: Can't speak Gaelic, Spanish, Cornish, Saxon, nor...

Work: I've never had a full-time job.


Non-interests: Sport, war, Tarski, collecting anything, scale-modelling, surfing, bell-ringing, spelunking.


Education lapses:

Secondary:
No economics, no philosophy, no gender, no business studies, no psychology, no politics, no French, no Chinese, no grammar (properly). I'm also quite bad at geography.

Tertiary: No law, no computing, no engineering, no geology, no medical, no pure maths.

I've made definitive surveys of no field - nor any phenomenon, physical, cultural, or other. I know nothing of Nussbaum, I am ignorant of Avenarius, I haven't a clue about Conway. I've contributed nothing to either the mainstream nor dissenting schools of economic thought.

I've never read Hemingway, Goethe, Brookner, Isherwood - nor anything from the Harlem Renaissance (nor much of the Euro Renaissance) - nor Houellebecq, Duras, Vargos Llosa, Thackaray, Musil, Bainbridge, Naipaul, that Girl With the Dragon stuff, Zola, Behn, Updike, Wolfe, Richardson, Barth, Byatt, Bellow, Brecht, Kazantzakis, Paz - almost no Classical stuff - Smollett, Wharton, Trollope, Nin, neither Amis, Eco, Roth, Coetzee, Tóibín, no Christie or Hammett, nothing I could afterwards identify as "chicklit" (except Austen?) and, despite heroic efforts, I have not yet successfully climbed a Pynchon.

There are also a vast number of things I do not know that I don't know about. (I imagine.)


References who don't know me at all: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Bruce Campbell, Johann Hari, Deirdre McCloskey, Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi, John Worrall, Guo Qian, James Corden.



*****************************************************


There's seriousness to this:


When we compete for jobs, or lovers, or whatever, there's pressure on us to distort upwards, to portray ourselves as positively as possible (if not more). Now, since we can't disclose everything about ourselves, selective reporting is obviously not wrong in itself. But there's a kind of endemic anxiety that ensures that our approach to our CVs mirrors our approach to life.




It becomes the job of rivals to point out our limitations and lacks; being clear about negative facts - a prerequisite for avoiding delusion - is seen as modesty or a snub, a jab, a harm. If knowledge were climbing, we refuse to look down, and end up not moving at all, but upturn only our nose.




Useful scepticism is eroded by all kinds of things: the market operation above, by epistemic busyness, and above all by our universal psychological foibles. Nassim Taleb has spent his life pointing out that this leads to a dangerous fragility in our theories and lives; all the way down to our metaphysics, all the way back to the MRCA.


It is useful and impressing to be able to list one's strengths. But to have an eye on one's weakness is noble.



24/02/2011

The Dilthey Prize


People like to make lists of the good things humanity's been getting up to. But they always jabber exclusively about natural-science: hard tech. This is probably because physical apparatus is louder, and life-saving in an obvious way. So: some quiet (Heideggerian) technology that was also massive:

Grandest findings of the human sciences
(broadly construed)
in their first century:


1931: Maths is not logic.

This doctrine, "Logicism", or "Fregeanism-with-respect-to-the-foundations-of-maths" was a highly impressive attempt to make the world make sense. It consists in the two linked theses:

1. mathematical concepts can be defined in terms of logical ones (no math-primitives)
and
2. mathematical principles can be derived from axioms (given definitions of concepts).

Why does this matter?
Why did people want it to obtain?
Why is Gödel's incompleteness theorem so renowned?

I suppose logicism matters because we live in a world where the most (academically, politically, rhetorically) credible analyses are the ones that cloak themselves in formal algebra. It's a paradigm where even fatuous formalization is preferred to other methods. We are reassured by the difficult and symbolic; it tastes of rigour even where it is unrigorous. The logical positivists were still invested in the idea long after Russell's Principia Mathematica, logicism's finest hour, went south.

People want it (particularly math-physicists like Hilbert) because aporia is fucking unpleasant. A great many philosophical problems disappear when you have appropriate rational grounding.

The Incompleteness Theorem's power is that it's an intuitionist's rebuttal of logicism using logicists' own methodology: if the Theorem is true, no finitary system can ever cover everything that arithmetic does (or seems to do).

"...the human mind is not capable of formulating all of its mathematical intuitions."
- Gödel

Quizas.





from 1898: Marx was wrong.

At least insofar as:
(It was mostly Marxists that found all this out for us.)

His other things - the concepts of social alienation and exploitation; his methods of social analysis; his theory of technical change; and his pioneering thought about market failure and ideology are right enough that pretty much everybody who thinks about society uses them.

Despite what it looked like from where he was, there probably aren't "fatal structural contradictions in the economic dynamics of capitalism". Welfare capitalism has (despite recent appearances) smoothened some of it out. Before the C20th (and depositor insurance in particular), there was a banking panic of 2008's scale every twenty years. (Note that this isn't an endorsement of the "Great Moderation" presentist nonsense: just that capitalism's structure isn't obviously essentially volatile.)

Marx was right; Capitalism does limit us in all sorts of ways. But not near so much as his followers have sadly tended to.


(Winners: Von Bortkiewicz, Marshall, Bakunin, Keynes, Kolakowski, Hayek, JK Galbraith, Okishio, maybe Fukuyama ... and the Prague Spring)



1945 & 1961:
Evil is banal.

i.e. that 'Good' people are capable of horrific things too.

(Winners: the Nuremberg courts, Arendt, Asch, Milgram, Hofling, Zimbardo, Bandura)



1951: Voting may never work properly.

In 1951, an unusually human economist, Kenneth Arrow, published a game theory / psephology / ethics paper, which, starting from a very few modest value judgments like "votes should count the same," and "the system should operate stably" goes on to prove that any putative way of organising a vote will fail to satisfy all of the values at once.

The result sometimes gets reported as "democracy sux!", but the actual conclusion should be something like: "a voting mechanism defined for all possible preference orders cannot simultaneously comply with all four of these desirable conditions."

i.e. Although we have thought up lots of ways to decide together, flaws and "manipulability" are endemic to social choice. Others have shown up the limits to our science and our reason with regards to all "interpersonal comparisons of utility" - but there is conditional hope for a partial fix.

Principle #1: Anonymity (or, "Non-dictatorship")
The social welfare function should account for the wishes of multiple voters. It cannot simply mimic the preferences of a single voter.

Principle #2: Universality
For any set of individual voter preferences, the social welfare function should yield a deterministic, unique and complete ranking of societal choices.

Principle #3: Independence of irrelevant alternatives (IIA)
The social preference between x and y should depend only on the individual preferences between x and y (Pairwise Independence). More generally, changes in individuals' rankings of irrelevant alternatives (ones outside a certain subset) should have no impact on the societal ranking of the subset.

Principle #4: Unanimity
If every individual prefers a certain option to another, then so must the resulting societal preference order. This, again, is a demand that the social welfare function will be minimally sensitive to the preference profile.

Pick your virtues.




1956: Capitalism is not natural.

Highly artificial conditions are required for a market to arise, and work is involved in keeping the bastard thing from spoiling when it does.

Let's be generous to the marketeers; let's grant them even the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. Problem is, once you depart one tiny little jot from the ideal Platonic "perfectly competitive" market, all bets are off. Lipsey and Lancaster showed, - sixty bloody years ago! - that in every actual economy, and almost every physically possible economy, satisfying lots of the criteria for efficiency will not necessarily improve efficiency. It logically requires that you catch em all. This is why, irl, perfectly rational, expert free-market advice is so often counter-productive;
they're advising that you take a flight that gets you almost to your destination, where "almost" is "the sea".

(Pure) economic libertarianism is a fatally flawed doctrine. This same set of findings helped dismantle Social Darwinism. This is one of the biggest social-scientific works ever, but even in the field it simply is not well grasped.

(Winners: Lipsey and Lancaster, Nash, Dixit, the neo-Darwinists)


stalled? : Existing society is bigoted and brutal.

  • ...To sexual minorities (fabulous LGBT activism; no monolith occurs)
  • ...To the poor (Fabians, Marx)
  • ...and in fact everyone; itself (MARX, Weber, Debord, Habermas, Barthes, Foucault, Chomsky, Deleuze-Guattari, Derrida, Zizek)


1973: Money can make us crap.

Running counter to the suggested "efficiency wage" effect and our generally bottom-line-crazed culture, another psychology bit: "overjustification".



perennial: Existing society is endangering itself (and much, much more).


("Winners" - people who realized we were losing -

Activism

Aldo Leopold
Rachel Carson,
James Lovelock,
the Sierra Club,
eventually, guilty voters

special thanks to: Science

1957: Revelle & Keeling (the carbon penny drops),
1974: Molina & Rowland (o no ozone)


forever: Mind is hard.

The issue of what the fuck the mind is might have looked easy at the start of the century, but it lingers, and by no means just because of ideology and self-service. Functionalism and property physicalism were only recently born, though they grow quickly and evenly. But the issue is hardly solved, nor is it clear that cognitive science will breakthrough (for it may be chiselling at the wrong wall).


(Winners: Semon, Ryle, McCullough and Pitts, Turing, Chomsky, Newell and Simon, Putnam, Fodor, Dawkins, Dennett
vs
vs



Recently: Atheists are not less moral.

We can grant the religions that si dieu n'existe pas, tout est permis might have seemed likely. But only from the decrepit metaphysics of human nature they all tote.

(Winners: Epicurus [...], Russell, Hauser, de Waal, this just in)


*********************************************************

And now the section that explains why this kind of award doesn't happen:

Disagreement happens

Calling things objective "achievements" as I have done above is more or less taboo in good, rigorous philosophical work: all things flow; the infinite cornucopia is not yet eaten out, and there may anyway be no fact of the matter.

Individuals are sometimes allowed achievements; for entire fields we tend to speak instead of "developments", a neutral term which does not invite applause.

(This wiki page is excellent in tracing the agonies of the topic.)

Further, the humanities and half of the social sciences deal with values: entities which get called "arbitrary" from objectivist positions (which miss the fucken point) and of which it's never possible to speak of with finality.


1. The lure of logicism remains; the project recently underwent a resurrection (so-called "neo-logicism") in work by "The Scottish School" (Crispin Wright et al) and "The Stanford School" (Bernard Linsky et al). Parts of Gödel's proof and certainly von Neumann's have come under suspicion.

2. Under a very broad definition of "Marxist",the movement's themes are very much alive; the "Critical Theory" approach (straight outta Frankfurt) can be thought of as cultural neo-Marxism.

3. Not even the world faiths contest this one, I think.

4. Workarounds in "social choice theory" and "public choice theory" have been suggested, so that partial success is usually assured. (e.g. difference between resolute and nonresolute situations)

5. All that is true does not glitter: there aren't many serious pure libertarians anymore (even Nozick was made to bite bullets). Those that come close to the doctrine are roundly mocked even by other frothing types.

6. There's danger here; feminism, always attacked and denigrated, has come to be seen as "finished" by too many. Some overenthusiastic people declared Obama's coronation to be "the end of race politics" in America. The animal rights thing rolls on, neither revolutionizing nor stagnating.

7. Unorthodox, without much replication. Yet.

8. The meat of the concern has long reached 99% consensus, but at the fringes there is considerable distortion and pressing questions...


Mind you, disagreement is endemic in the natural sciences too. But they're orders of magnitude better at enforcing method, and thus a PR image of conformist progress.

17/02/2011

existential





Astoundingly, I've never been curious enough to ask: "What are drugs?"

15/02/2011

Speculations

(c) Thomas Eakins

"You defy the laws of humanity "
- Lucky Fonz III

There aren't too many social scientists looking for actual, binding, quantitative Laws of Human Behaviour anymore, thank christ.

Sociologists, philosophers, science-fictioneers and other aphorists have continued to form more-or-less ironic, more-or-less hyperbolic "Laws", though. They generally just take the form of modern proverbs. They form an important part of Nerdy Modernity, too; don't doubt it.



  • Arthur C Clarke:

    "1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; when he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong.

    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    4. For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert. (see also Kolakowski)"

****************************************************


  • Theodore Sturgeon

    Sturgeon's Law: "Nothing is always absolutely so".
    Sturgeon's Revelation: "Ninety percent of everything is crap".


  • Shermer's Last Law: "Any sufficiently advanced Extraterrestrial Intelligence is indistinguishable from God."



    • Isaac Asimov's are internal to his fictional world, but are actually a good philosophical ruleset for trying to stop strong-AI robotics from destroying us:

    "1. A robot may do nothing that, to its knowledge, will harm a human being; nor, through inaction, knowingly allow a human being to come to harm.

    2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    4. A robot must reproduce, as long as such reproduction does not interfere with the First or Second or Third Law. (from Harry Harrison)

    5. "A robot must know it is a robot." (from Nikola Kesarovski)"


    Of course, it's the military that will be the first to build such a creature, so there's no fucking chance of these sane protocols being built-in. More likely (all from David Langford):

    "1. A robot will not harm authorized Government personnel but will terminate intruders with extreme prejudice.

    2. A robot will obey the orders of authorized personnel except where such orders conflict with the Third Law.

    3. A robot will guard its own existence with lethal antipersonnel weaponry, because a robot is bloody expensive."



    And, at the other extreme, Mark Tilden gives a ruleset for letting hegemonistic, hyper-Darwinian robots replace us, and spread exponentially:

    "1. A robot must protect its existence at all costs.
    2. A robot must obtain and maintain access to its own power source.
    3. A robot must continually search for better power sources."

    (His faith in the optimizing power of evolution/markets is disturbing and misplaced.)

    *********************************************************

    • Hofstadter's Law: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law."

    • Mike Godwin
      "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis approaches one."


    • Larry Niven

      No.4 is complete nonsense, 7 wrong, and 13c reactionary nonsense, but these are quite clever otherwise:

      1.
      a. Never throw shit at an armed man.
      b. Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.

      2. Never fire a laser at a mirror.

      3. Mother Nature doesn't care if you're having fun.

      4. F×S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom
      of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa.

      5. Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless.

      6. It is easier to destroy than create.

      7. Any damn fool can predict the past.

      8. History never repeats itself.

      9. Ethics will change with technology.

      10. Anarchy is the least stable of social structures. It falls apart at a touch.

      11. There is a time and place for tact.

      12. The ways of being human are bounded but infinite.

      13. The world's dullest subjects, in order:
      a. Somebody else's diet.
      b. How to make money for a worthy cause.
      c. Special Interest Liberation.

      14. The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently.

      15. Fuzzy Pink Niven's Law: Never waste calories.

      16. There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.

      17. No technique works if it isn't used.

      18. Not responsible for advice not taken.

      19. Old age is not for sissies.

    ****************************************************

    • Heinlein:

    Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."


    • Best for students is Cyril Northcote Parkinson's Law:

      "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."
      or
      Data expands to fill the space available for storage.
      or
      "Nature abhors a vacuum." (Aristotle)

    • there's a corollary of Parkinson's Law, the "Jevons paradox" which is genuinely important (and depressing for ecologists):

      "The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource. The reverse is not true."

    i.e. that

    "It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth."
    - Jevons

    10/02/2011

    child





    "A philosopher never quite gets used to the world. To him and her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable; a philosopher remains as thin-skinned as a child... Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outermost reaches of language and existence. Some of them fall off, but others cling on desperately and yell at the people nestling deep in the snug softness, stuffing themselves with delicious food and drink. 'Ladies and gentlemen,' they yell, 'we are floating in space!' But none of the people down there care."
    - Jostein Gaarder


    "What makes one regard philosophers suspiciously and mockingly is not that one again and again detects how innocent they are — how often and how easily they make mistakes and go astray — in short, their childishness and childlikeness — but that they display insufficient honesty, while they make a mighty and virtuous noise as soon as the problem of truthfulness is touched on. They pose as having discovered and arrived at their real opinions through the self-development of a cool, pure, divinely disinterested dialectic (in contrast to the mystics of all ranks, who are more honest than they are and more stupid with their talk of “inspiration”—), while basically they defend with reasons sought out after the fact an assumed principle, an idea, an “inspiration,” for the most part some heart-felt wish which has been abstracted and sifted. They are all advocates who do not want to call themselves that."
    - Nietzsche,
    Beyond Good and Evil #5




    We'll forgive Gaarder's sweet self-aggrandising Enlightenment leanings, and, best of all, we'll forgive them because of Nietzsche's venomous metaphilosophy:



    We need people to make the mistake of objectivity, after all.

    (Or, if not "need", then "find it easier for". Evolutionary errors are like market forces, solutions requiring no upkeep; whereas hard-won Nietzschean self-possession is very much a Command economy.)


    **********************************************************





    Also: My baby brother does not know that I'm often regarded as a clever person. This lack of illusion allows him to call me a "silly" and to insist that I do not understand Lego; a faculty no-one else possesses and which he is soon to lose. But perhaps not!

    07/02/2011

    the laughter of authoritarians



    "Jokes are risky; they are a game of percentages. That is why jokes are best left to professional jokesters. Certainly they are too dangerous for politicians to play with. Any joke that doesn't offend at least a few people is unlikely to be funny ... The professional politician, by contrast, lives to avoid giving offense."
    - Michael Kinsley

    Liberal politicians are invariably a bit shit at comedy. Compared to their authoritarian counterparts, the stakes are always lower when Dennis Skinner or Al Franken slips a quip in. Safe despots can afford levity; the desperate menace of a despot cracking a joke even underwrites their effect. (Nervous laughter is the loudest kind.)


    "Am I a pure democrat? Of course I am, absolutely. But do you know what the problem is? Not even a problem but a real tragedy? The problem is that I'm all alone, the only one of my kind in the whole wide world. [...] There is no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died."
    - Putin


    • Medvedev shares Putin's dark mirth: in November 2010, he visited the Kuril Islands (some Russian territory which are absurdly close to Japan), followed by a masse of press. He tagged one photo of Kunashir: "There are so many beautiful places in Russia!" His office also recently deadpanned a Nobel Peace Prize recommendation for Julian Assange.


    • Idi Amin is the worst example as far as distorted memes go: we know him almost first as a comic. From his accordion, to his Scotophilia, to harrassing the Queen, to inviting foreign press in advance to his attack of Tanzania, and in 1977 gave himself a CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire). In more neatness, he called himself "Dada". Yes.


    1. A suspiciously sensible, tolerant, liberal op-ed he wrote for the New York Times. (I imagine he wanted us to shudder at realising that we agreed with him.)

    2. Takes a big-ass tent everywhere.

    3. NYT has made a list of his contempt.

    4. Right.

    5. Bling bling.

    6. Mock hangings at his 40th anniversary party.

    7. And pipers to "thank" Scotland for Megrahi.

    • And just last week, China's Central Committee must have been pissing themselves - the US defence secretary, visiting in concern over their recent massive militarization got their new stealth fighter flown over him.


    "However President Hu assured the US defence secretary that the flight had not been timed to coincide with his visit."


    ";)", one feels bound to add.



    These men are colourful, preening, outrageous, and often charming. It's not much of a jump from their brutal power to suggest that fun is a further calculation of the scheme: in this they mollify us, shield us from their crimes with a great halo of chuckling populism. Needless to say, this makes them more dangerous.

    06/02/2011

    Listen Cloze: A Portrait of Against Me!


    "Sell out or set out against."
    - Shit Stroll, 1997


    ""I wanna be a shot heard round the world, fucking unstoppable..."
    - Armageddon, 2000


    ""Tell me, how could you compromise yourself like this?..
    Have I forgotten where I've come from?"
    - Jordan's First Choice, 2001


    ""Just give me a scene where the music is free...
    And there's no need to shit-talk or impress..."
    - Reinventing Axl Rose, 2002


    "So can your pop sensibilities sing me the end of the world?
    Well there's a lot of things that should be said,
    So we're hammering six-strings machine-gun, inaudible voices
    This is the party we came for, a new way on..."
    - Cliché Guevara, 2003


    ""Foul play! There's a target on the audience -
    Vampires! We're only in it for the money -
    Diluted! We took the movement to the market -
    So fuck us! We totally sold out the scene."
    - The Shaker, 2005


    "Protest songs in response to military aggression.
    Protest songs trying to stop the soldiers' guns."
    - White People for Peace, 2007


    "The revolution was a lie."
    - I Was A Teenage Anarchist, 2010


    Against Me! are a great example of many phenomena that haunt counterculture bands - and tell-me-where-you-live-I-will-gig-in-your-toilet punk-folk most of all. I mean things like: a morbid fear of co-option and "selling out" (i.e. of success); the need to sermonize, to confirm one's membership in the unsold-out orthodoxy; inverse snobbery ("fucking radio rock!"); a love of levelling-down; and utterly restricted aesthetics.

    AM! lived long in a place where "major label debut" means not "the beginning of your pro musical career", but its spiritual end. They got out, though only via the most impressive fanbase alienation of recent years. Come, follow them from Crass to blink-182, Plan-it X to Sire (and back?):


    1999:


    Lookee; feinting acoustic thrash from their first EP.
     
    "I'm not dead yet.
    Hope's not dead yet."
    Just how hard can you hit an acoustic guitar? Even as young and hardcore as they are, there's "experiment" (compare the structure of this with Crass' "G Song" - each beguiling, lonely piano intros followed by thrash). Gabel's vox don't merit the word 'lyrics'; we are excess teen passion. Note that even as early as this EP there's "whoooooah"s and nice unison melody bits. Hey, what if we went quiet and then went loud!
     
     
    • I don't want to attack political idealism; why on earth would you? These are the people who are trying to care about the world, people who react to all the horrible shit - which no one totally avoids seeing - with proper rage and proper purity.
    Oh yeah; because it's infested with posture, self-importance, intolerance and wilful technical ignorance. As such, large bits of it are an impersonation of a political movement. Lightly-donned, ill-conceived political idealism is a force preserving the status quo: firstly since, in rejecting due process and reform, it ends up achieving nothing; and secondly because, if-and-when it takes up direct action, it alienates and polarizes out people who could change things on grander scales.
     
    "The personal is political; so, everything is political; and, if you're not making political épater le bourgeois! music then you're a fucking shill. With us or against us. All or nothing."
    Which is beautiful but not true.
     
    • I don't want to attack DIY; why on earth would you? These are folk who care about their music's financial and artistic autonomy to the point of only needing to break-even from it (if that). These are folk who have freed themselves (and you) of the self-aggrandizing, fifty-foot-high-stage mythology that chokes rock music from its beginnings on.
     
    Oh yeah; because in hermiting itself off, it necessarily disparages most people and the things most people like; demonizes things which actually do good, like trade; has no argument against capitalism beyond disliking some stuff; and cos it leads to tall-poppy syndrome. It's not clear that punk was ever about freedom.
     
     
    **********************************************************
     
     
    Aside on Quality and "Artist Decay"
     
    Note a pattern: On releases following an obscure, well-regarded début, band becomes shit. Purists and other corpses talk about this as artist decay, and there's no point denying it; people think it happens, in all media, in maybe most cases. And if people think there is decay, for them there is: we're consistently bad at judging quality, possibly because it doesn't exist.
     
    ****************************************************
     
    2000:
     
     
     
    Despite its frontin' and screamed historical content, this is really a love song across political doctrines. The bassline is pure doo-wop, a simple addition to the long list of punk songs that ignore the talk of "Year Zero" and the rejection of melody.
     
    Around this time, Gabel reveals himself to be a blues hollerer in a long good tradition: Little Richard, Seeger, Springsteen, Keith Morris. It's a one-trick style, but perfect for both hardcore and the anthemic powerpop they've settled into.
     
    Actually, from the start, a surprising amount of their songs have been romantic, Beat self-obsession. (see the political Science, below)
     
    There's hints of anxious self-consciousness all the way through the discography; the last single is just the most gurningly blatant one. And then there's their getting tired of the pretence; sleep (passivity, peace) is a main motif all through. ("8 Hours", "Turn those Clapping Hands"). This is as it ought be; about many things, many brilliant shades of grey.
     
    ""And it's so much less confusing when lines are drawn like that
    When people are either consumers or revolutionaries."
     - Those Anarcho Punks
     
     
    2003:
     
    Upon signing to Fat Wreck Chords, though - a successful, famously socially progressive, non-corporate, non-RIAA entity that apparently doesn't bother with contracts - there was ideological blood on the streets. "Disgruntled fans slashed the tires of their tour van in one town and graffitied it in another (scrawling “remember when you mattered” but misspelling “Against”). At a concert in Texas a protest band called Against Us! played in the parking lot outside the club. A writer for Maximum RocknRoll, the grand­daddy of DIY zines, went so far as to issue a fatwa against the band, listing tips readers might find handy for disrupting Against Me! shows (like pouring bleach on their T–shirt table). “He came to a show and let off a stink bomb,” Seward says. “We were like, ‘Well, this smells,’ and kept on playing.” Even in a notoriously balkanized subculture, this kind of abuse was over the top..."
     
    By the time the pitchfork-toting anarcho-folk scene had proven what the band had presumably concluded - that their scene was elitist, self-obsessed and a deadend - they were on their way to Warner. Gabel recently got into some ugliness with a drunk kid angry at his pop music.
    .
    .
    .
    Aye.
     
     
     
    Was this a betrayal of the self? Are they a diluted shadow of their previously pure and righteous look at the world? No. Science time!
     
    Proportion of songs with specifically political - not just shapelessly angry - lyrics in each Against Me! release:  
    • Vivada Vis: 33% ("In the Name of What?" "National Myth" and "This Is Control")
    • 12" EP: 40% ("I am Citizen" & "All or Nothing")
    • Acoustic EP: 33% ("Those Anarcho Punks", maybe "Reinventing")
    • Reinventing Axl Rose: 54% ("Starving", "Jordan's", "Those Anarchos", "Reinventing", "Baby I'm An Anarchist", "8 Hours" sort-of)
    • Eternal Cowboy: 28% ("Cliche", "Rice and Bread", "Turn those Clapping Hands" - their best)
    • Former Clarity: 29% (sort-of "Justin", "From Her Lips", "Holy Shit!", "Clarity")
    • New Wave: 40% ("New Wave", sort-of "Up the Cuts", "White People", "Americans Abroad")
    • White Crosses: 40% (1, 2, 6, 10)
    So it's not lyrical dilution. The last album even calls out old Robert McNamara's war crimes, in a massive poppunk chorus. This is an excellent speech-act.
     
    "Aha!" cries our strawman purist. "But they are politically diluted! Deed over word! Look what they did to Plan-it X! In their profiteering, they have abandoned DIY!"
     
    No. This view is an analogue of admitting that you do not listen to music at all; you listen instead to artists, scenes and Propositions. Which you're free to do, but release me.
     
    So we have reason to conclude the backlash against Against Me! is an aesthetic one; inverse snobbery about the amount of . Now, people who reject them for their pop-punk sound and sharp new wardrobe are right in one way - there is no easy separating content and style - but dead wrong about the politics of accessible sound.
     
     
    2005:
     
     
     
    One of their few convincing political treatments comes very late on, this strange, Minutemen-derived globalization drawl. Punk: no restriction on the "taste" of your lyrical content (nuclear terror, foetal meals, Hakenkreuz) but authoritarian restriction on style. Burn all flags but the black one.
     
     
     
    2007:
     
    "The past two years have been the best of my life, starting with the making of this record."
    - Tom Gabel, 2009
     
    It's difficult to pinpoint where the measures shifted and they stopped being punk, mostly because I don't care. New Wave and White Crosses are populist, post-emo rock'n'roll bullshit - but if you can't see past the rhetoric of "selling out", then, I dunno, maybe you just don't like people.
     
    "Not punk if not only punk."
     
    New Wave is unpleasantly self-conscious; more than half the album is about the music industry, as if they signed up to Sire just to make a musical report for the underground. Unrepentent too, mind; featuring the tall one out of Tegan and Sara. (And why not.)
     
    What is interesting is that they didn't have to mature into pop-punk, the Green-Day-with-a-vocabulary that they did. As the Eternal Cowboy, the first Fat Wreck release, is a bunch of short vignettes that flirt with all kinds of sounds, deciding what to become. There's something that could become recognisably great folk. They might yet develop this more oblique stuff, pull more "Pints of Guinness". 
    Even the name, "New Wave" is a stuck-out tongue - read it as "replacement of punk" the parvenu pop that "co-opted" punk in the 80s... And, with hindsight, the 2005 album title is another sly one.
     
     
    2010:
     
     
     
    This is profound cheese. Specific Springsteen. Wordy Weezer. Marxist My Chemical Romance. Weary of delusion. It is fine to let yourself be preposterous and generic, if you want to, and if you're good at it. If you disagree, I dunno, go fail to buy Vivada Vis! on eBay. Again.
     
    (For once the music video genuinely adds to things - the first 1:30, where the crowd simply watches Gabel getting fucked up is far more potent than the polished stadium-punk behind would suggest. And then his massive grin at 3:11...)


    Unlikely choruses in White Crosses:

    "ST AUGUSTINE SHINE YOUR LIGHT DOWN ON ME!"
    - White Crosses
     
    "Would anyone forgive Robert McNamara? In retrospect he had to admit There was a mistake in going to war without first asking all the questions."
    - High Pressure Low
     
    "I've got no judgment for you,"
    - Ache With Me

    *************************************************

     
    "I do think that, unfortunately, a majority of kids out there aren’t necessarily interested. Instituting a draft might be the only thing that will really make them political. But it’s not just kids, most people in general are happy just to be ignorant to what’s going on."


    Where does someone's right to prefer ignorance end? Doesn't the hateful state of the world justify focussed, active education / harrassment?

    There's no easy answer - but slashing someone's tyres for wanting to do something else says more about your shallowness than theirs.



    We keep moving up, because we can’t go back.”
    - 2011,
    and so on




    04/02/2011

    conceptual chemistry



    We are stories chemistry tells to her children. We tell stories, and live in them. Live only within them. We are built of stories, mostly ancient citations - "the Man", "the Scholar", "the White", "the Fool", "the Scotsman"...

    Physically too. We're a chain of chemical events with a plot taken from a folk literary tradition. (It never needed a narrator.)


    ********************************************************


    "For fuck's sake would you just love life? (though there's massive suffering everywhere at all times)(and though science has looked up your skirts and down your soul)(and though the spiritualists and Platonists are seductive and comforting with the high dry webs they spin.)"
    - after Nietzsche

    I've been in need of an intellectual kick up the arse for a wee while now. Handily there's a Nietzsche course running, and I just got a copy of the Deirdre McCloskey anthology Measurement and Meaning. (Read page xv! Ziliak's academic compering is utterly mad by any field's standards, but economics?).


    The kicker: How much truth can you stand?

    ******************************************


    "One day I was in the Aberdeen Union reading Isaac Asimov. wondering why so many people were going out on a Thursday. Then I realized it was Valentines and I was in a pub reading science fiction by myself."
    - a beautiful boy

    *********************************************

    Psych trick which probably doesn't have much accuracy (but probably enough):


    P1: One's politics derive from one's view of human nature.

    P2: One's view of human nature is a vague and socialized bunch of things (any enlightened view of it will realize that there's plenty of "human natures"), but... We mistake ourselves for humanity.

    C: We can read into someone's politics what, at core, they think of themself.


    ********************************************************
    people bent and died
    so that you can be bored
    young lady
    *********************************************************

    The grieving think in circles. Some (the old, I am told) think in a circle of radius 0 and die of it. Otherwise the circle gradually expands, you act and you emote without necessarily encountering the corroded part of the ring. At least not all the time. Love is not the kind of thing you divest easily. I don't know what kind of solvent would do.

    Still, even thinking in circles, revolving limply, you yet might find yourself a split-ring; an opening; a vacancy. We are our pasts, but christ! not only our pasts.